It’s now been over 24 hours since I last saw Smacky.

I went out for a run yesterday afternoon. The weather was nice, warm, sunny. I’d been inside most of the morning, setting up my new computer, cleaning up the apartment, doing laundry, and playing with Smacky. I wore him out. I’d been in such a good mood all day and he helped. As I told him, he’s got basically two jobs around the house:

  1. Make me laugh;
  2. Catch the bugs.

He was doing great on the first one, not so good on the second one, lazy bastard. I had to catch some of the bugs myself. But I’m not bitter about it.

He was curled up in the computer room when I last saw him. I got up from my desk, went into the bedroom, changed into my running clothes, went outside. I didn’t see or hear him wake up, so I didn’t pay any attention to whether or not he came out of the computer room when I opened the door. I normally watch for him, since I don’t want him outside – especially now that he’s got sutures from the operation earlier this week.

One thing I did that I don’t normally do is left the front door unlocked. I didn’t want to carry my house keys along with my iPod., and I figured I wouldn’t be gone that long.

My run was uneventful and I felt tired and slow. I was only going to go for about 2 miles, just down to the park and back, so I thought I’d push myself and go faster. Ha! That just tired me out.

When I got back, he didn’t come to the door. I called for him, but he’s not a cat that comes when I call him (yet; I always wanted to train him that way). I was tired and sweaty, poked my head in the computer room but he wasn’t there, wasn’t in the kitchen when I got some water, wasn’t in the bathroom while I showered.

That, along with the living room, pretty much is the entire apartment.

I figured he was hiding. But that would be unusual for him. I worried a little bit, then when I was clean and dressed again, I went over the house top to bottom. I opened cupboards, closets. I looked in the washer and dryer with a growing sense of dread and fear (I had been doing laundry; couldn’t he suffocate in there? Could it happen in the time it took me to go for a run and return? Had I left it running?) I looked in the refrigerator and oven.

He wasn’t there.

I can’t think about it even now without feeling stupid and sad and angry. I left the door open and sat in the living room hoping he’d turn up. I kept looking out back, and checking the windows. I would jump up at the slightest squeak or whistle hoping it was him. I walked around the block several times, looking for that telltale black. Oh, who was I kidding? He’d be almost impossible to spot, especially if he wasn’t moving. Like he was asleep. Or. Yeah, stop that.

I’m not close to my neighbors. I tend to keep to myself and don’t talk to them often. They’re, all of them, like me, single older men (I’m not the youngest but close, I think) and mainly they all sit around and drink. They may or may not be employed. The loudest is the one I call “Old Barfy” because, almost every single morning, he’s throwing up, hacking and coughing, in his bathroom. I used to live so that my bedroom shared a wall with his bathroom and his regurgitation would wake me up. I moved, downstairs, primarily to get away from that sound. I can still hear it, faintly, sometimes, but it’s much lessened, like a dog barking in the distance. He’s in his 60s, tanned and bald and thin like leather, with a voice that can cut through steel, sharp and loud. I don’t like him because of all I’ve described plus his manipulative behavior when he first moved in, trying to get me to make his complaints for him to the landlord.

One time, weeks ago, he called out to me in a tone of voice that creeped me out, “That shore is a cute little kitten you’ve got there.” I ignored him. I thought he might try to eat Smacky or something.

I sat for an hour and a half, hearing Old Barfy call out to other folk in the neighborhood, drinking beer on the upstairs walkway with another, quieter bachelor. I couldn’t bring myself to go out there and ask for help from someone I feared and hated.

But as the minutes passed I knew that I had to do everything I could to make sure Smacky got back to me.

I went out and asked Old Barfy if he’d seen my cat. Hardest thing I’ve done in a long time. From the way I’d treated him in the past I had no right to expect any help, but he did, in a small way. He went around to some of the other tenants in adjacent apartment buildings, the ones who already had pets or had kids likely to bring home a stray, and asked them if they’d seen my cat. No one had, but it was a nice gesture. I made sure to thank him.

I’ve made up a flyer that I’m going to post in the neighborhood. I thought about offering a reward. Am I bad that I’m not offering one? Does that reduce the chances of me getting him back? I’m just not made of money. More guilt. I’m sad but I don’t know that what I could afford would be enough to entice a stranger to return a cat.

I’m glad I got Smacky chipped, but I don’t know how well that’s going to work now. I have doubts. Do all vets scan for the chip? Smacky didn’t wear a collar so there’s no outward sign of him being owned and not a stray. Well, no outward sign except for the fact that his claws are trimmed and he’s recently been neutered. Wouldn’t someone notice that?

I’m sad. I have very little hope of getting him back. I feel intense guilt every time I leave the house, to go get food or even take a walk, being sure that he would come back when I’m not around to hear him at the door. I slept most of the night on the couch so I might have a better chance of waking up to his faint, squeaky meow. I left the front porch light on (like he’d notice something like that). I checked out all my windows before going to bed.

And for only the second time since I got him, over 5 months ago, I woke up alone in the apartment again.